Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail

November 5, 2016

It has been quite a few years since we last hiked the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail in the Applegate.  So with forecasted cool weather and plenty of time for a long hike, we ventured out to explore some of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail along with a couple of access trails.

Time for a hike!
When we last hiked any of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, there were just two trailheads with access trails. When combined with the main trail and road, this formed a nice 4-5 mile loop hike.  As we began our hike today, the trail now has at least six different trailheads, four areas for horse trailer parking,  and with trail improvements and connections it forms a network over 18 miles long that can be used for hiking, bikiing and horse riding.

Informative sign about the Sterling Mine Ditch trail history.
We began our hike today at the Bear Gulch TH off the Little Applegate Road.  This 1-mile access trail wanders slowly uphill through tree filled woods before a couple of switchbacks bring you to the main Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.  This access trail was probably our favorite part of the hike due to the autumn color still on the trees, the shade and coolness of this portion, and the fun of having the wind pick up and blow a sea of leaves all around you when you stop and stand still.  Just hiking this trail to enjoy autumn is worth it.  There was even a bench where you could sit and just enjoy the woods.

Autumn color along......

....the Bear Gulch Trail
Once we got to the main trail, we made a left turn and began hiking what is a very flat trail along the ridge with the Sterling Mine Ditch alongside us.  Hiking along the ridge gave us so many opportunities to view the beautiful Applegate Valley and surrounding mountains, a few of which had snow.

View of the Applegate Valley, trail and to the right, the Sterling Mne Ditch
As we continued we weren't sure how far we would hike along the main trail, but after a couple of miles we came to a junction with another access trail leading to the Wolf Gap TH.  Rather than continue hiking along the ridge, we decided to give this 1.5 mile access trail a try which would make our total hike just over 9 miles long.
The very level Sterling Mine Ditch Trail

The Wolf Gap Trail, like the Bear Gulch Trail, was wooded and looked so inviting.  But we soon learned that this trail was almost all uphill and that shade we saw soon turned into a thing of the past as we emerged out into the open.  As we pressed on uphill, we began crossing exposed ridges and what was suppose to be a cool cloudy day turned into a very hot sunny day, which turned us into very hot hikers -- and not in a good sense.  (We later found out that the Applegate Valley was 15 degrees warmer than Medford, when usually the reverse is true)

One of many beautiful views from the trail.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

One last beautiful view!!!

At times it felt like we were hiking in the middle of summer as the sun reflected off the hillsides.  We trudged
on thinking that this was the longest 1.5 miles we had ever hiked.  We passed a hornets nest in the ground that was right next to the trail and filled with unhappy hornets, hiked through tick infested grass segments of trail (Glenn got 1 tick, Katie got 4) and even found a spot where a large black bird (Crow or Raven) had been killed and only feathers remained.  Was this the trail of doom?  Was there really a Wolf Gap TH??

An unhappy hornets nest along the trail!!
Tick infested grass portion of trail
Then we finally saw the trailhead sign in the distance and upon arrival, took a much needed food, drink and rest break. Glenn made sure to take pictures of the trailhead sign to prove we had hiked the Wolf Gap portion (since we might not hike that trail again).

Proof that we made it!!!!
Our return leg followed the same route in reverse and was pretty much all downhill or flat, so that felt good. We sprinted by the hornets, said a prayer for Mr Crow and quickly descended to the main trail.  We did enjoy the many beautiful views all along the trail and especially enjoyed the yellow autumn colored oak trees. There was also evidence that bears tend to hike the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail too (some very big bears based on their droppings!), but evidently they only come out at night.  We did see a number of other hikers on our return leg and the Bear Gulch Trailhead area was pretty full of cars when we finished.
One of the golden orchards of oaks!!
Our recommendation if you hike this area is to start at the Bear Gulch TH like we did and then head left or right at the Sterling Mine Ditch trail, take in the views of the valley, and then turnaround at the distance of  your choice.  If you head to the right, there is a tunnel that is about 2 miles down the trail which makes a great turnaround spot too.  Either way, get out and try this trail and enjoy the view!

Trekking Together
Glenn & Carol